New York firm helps small businesses emerge from the COVID-19 crisis

Jessica Larios’ baby arrived a few weeks before her due date at the end of February.

The owner of Bella’s Event – an event planning business in Yonkers, New York, specializing in rentals and sales of all things party-related from wedding gowns to quinceañera dresses, table linens and party supplies – Larios could not afford to take time off during one of the busiest months for bookings.

In a haze of feedings and caring for the baby, Larios plowed through her work. Less than a month later, things ground to a halt as the coronavirus pandemic took hold – and cancellations poured in.

Jessica Larios owns Bella’s Events, which specializes in rentals and sales of everything party-related, such as quinceanera dresses, in Yonkers, N.Y. The Acceleration Project, a nonprofit consulting firm, helped Larios navigate the loans process and adapt her business by moving it online.

“I was so worried I was not going to be able to make rent and would have to shut down my business,” which she opened in 2014, she said.

She thought of reaching out to the women from the Acceleration Project, a nonprofit business consulting firm that helped her with bookkeeping and merchandise sorting last summer.

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Consultants from TAP strategized with Larios on how best to approach and negotiate with her landlord.

The Acceleration Project helped Bella’s Events, a party planning business.

“That was very helpful. My landlord actually cut my rent by half for six months,” she said. “They have also been keeping me informed about all the protections available for small businesses.”

The Acceleration Project was founded in 2012 to help small businesses that were dealing with the aftermath of the economic recession and increased competition from online shopping. Seventy-five percent of the businesses it serves are women-owned, and 33% are minority-owned.

Jane Veron is CEO of the Acceleration Project, a nonprofit consulting firm that helps small business survive in challenging times.

Jane Veron, CEO and co-founder of TAP, made up of all female consultants, said there has been a high demand for their services in the past two months.

“It has been an incredibly busy time for us. In a way, our mission from 2012 has become more urgent than ever. And now this enormous disruption is something that impacts virtually all small business owners,” Veron said. “So what became clear to us very early on is the need to develop emergency services.”

Since March, TAP consultants have supported small businesses with free emergency services addressing their immediate decisions calculating payroll costs, identifying ways to negotiate expenses and providing guidance on Small Business Administration loans and forgiveness programs. They’ve assisted almost 50 small businesses, a mix of past and new clients. 

Initially, the most pressing needs were all around government loan information and assistance, said Nancy Rosenberg, COO of TAP.

“We quickly dug in and got up to speed on the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and other loan opportunities and were constantly fielding questions like: Which loans should I apply for?  How much money should I request? Should I furlough my employees? How can I use the loan proceeds if my business has been forced to close? Will my loan be forgiven?” she said.

Congress established the small-b
usiness-focused PPP as part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Businesses with fewer than 500 workers can secure low-interest loans of up to $10 million. The loan will be fully forgiven if the funds are used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities (at least 75% of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll). Loan payments will be deferred for six months.

Of the businesses that applied for the loan, about 66.7% received the money, according to the Census Bureau.

For businesses who used TAP’s expertise, the numbers have been better.

“About 83% of our clients that applied for the PPP eventually received the funds they had requested,” Rosenberg said.

Tiffany Amaya-Cipriano shut down A Child’s Dream in March.

Tiffany Amaya-Cipriano, founder of A Child’s Dream, a nursery school at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in New Rochelle, New York, shut down her school March 12.

When she reached out to TAP with questions on the loan application process, the consultants advised her to apply for the PPP so she could pay her teachers and keep them involved in her students’ lives through story hours and other activities.

“The consultants were a really great support system,” she said.

A planned summer school has been canceled, resulting in another financial hit.

 “I have a wonderful team of employees that have worked together,” Amaya-Cipriano said, “and we stay in touch daily to make sure that everyone’s doing OK and stay in touch with our families.”

For Rob Kissner, president and CEO of Digital Arts Experience in Scarsdale, New York, which provides hands-on classes and experiences to children interested in learning how to code, create video games, design graphics and more, TAP was a familiar sounding board.

In 2015, as he looked to expand his operations, he leaned on the expertise of the TAP consultants. One result was the expansion of DAE’s business through after-school programming. After working with TAP consultants, the DAE doubled the number of its school district partners and began teaching hundreds of students coding and digital arts.

“When the whole situation came about with COVID-19, I was having to obviously rethink the function of my business,” he said. “Jane set me up with consultants that were all local parents, so I could get their perspective both as parents and as business consultants and came up with a couple of great strategies.”

The consultants suggested teacher-supervised virtual “Minecraft” parties, consulting services for other small businesses that need to move their product and services online and group coding classes. They also suggested targeting parents who want to be more digitally savvy and refundable registration for summer programs.

< p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)--sm Mt(0.8em)--sm" type="text" content="Veron, who grew TAP from a small consulting outfit in Scarsdale to serving more than 550 clients in 10 states and 110 consultants, is not quite done. She said her goal is to double in size by the end of the year." data-reactid="118">Veron, who grew TAP from a small consulting outfit in Scarsdale to serving more than 550 clients in 10 states and 110 consultants, is not quite done. She said her goal is to double in size by the end of the year.

“We now have a boot camp for businesses to rethink all aspects of their business model, from product offerings to managing employees and operations and their network of vendors and landlords,” she said.

Larios, the owner of Bella’s Event, plans on shifting her focus to online sales and is setting up a website. For now, she’ll double down on balloons and table and chair rentals.

“I think it’s going to be two years before we have events with 100 people or more. But I think people will be having backyard parties and summer barbecues,” she said. “People want to feel happy. I think balloons and decorations are going to be popular.”

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy covers women and power for the USA TODAY Network Northeast. Click here for her latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @SwapnaVenugopal.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: TAP helps small businesses emerge from the coronavirus crisis